Did South Korean Teen Become ISIS Jihadist in Syria?

What started as a simple remark during a CNN interview has turned into the story of a South Korean teen having possibly crossed the border in to Syria to become an ISIS jihadists.

The story first got legs last week in the Korean media with a ministry official answering questions as to whether South Korean nationals were among foreign jihadists fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS).

The initial line of questioning from the press grew out of the following quote given to CNN by 18-year-old Hamad al-Tamimi:

“There are people hailing from all over the world that have joined ISIS. From Norway, from America, Canada, Somalia, Korea, China, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon and European countries such as Germany and France.”

Korean officials initially dismissed the al-Tamimi claim.

“We’re working closely to find out if our nationals are among the ISIS jihadists, although we believe our people are most likely not involved,” a ministry official said. “However, it will take some time until we can truly confirm this.”

South Korean Teen then Reported Missing

Two days later on January 17th, a Turkish media outlet reported that an 18-year-old Korean visiting Turkey had gone missing.

“The man disappeared on January 10 after he left a hotel” in the southern Turkish town of Kilis near the border with Syria, an official told AFP.


The young man had been accompanied on part of his journey by an as yet unidentified South Korean man, who later reported the disappearance to the South Korean embassy according to Yonhap.

South Korean officials soon stepped in to assist in the hunt for the missing teen.

According to Milliyet the teenager exchanged emails with ISIS militants before he entered Turkey.

“We dispatched officials from our embassy on Tuesday and since then they have been searching for him, together with Turkish police,” the official said, while declining to give further details.

Turkish newspaper Milliyet later reported that the South Korean teen had not only crossed the Turkish border into Syria but that he had joined ISIS.

Evidence Points to Teen Possibly Joining ISIS Jihadists

According to Milliyet the teenager, identified only as “Kim”, exchanged emails with ISIS militants before he entered Turkey.

On Sunday South Korean authorities added that pictures of ISIS flags were found on his computer.

An employee of the hotel where Kim was staying before disappearing described Kim as a long-haired, skinny male with an uneasy demeanor.

“Kim looked very nervous here. When he left the hotel on Jan. 10, he wore a white mask with a backpack on.”

The employee further speculated: “He may have gone to Syria with Hassan,” a Turkish national whom Kim had exchanged emails with after meeting him on the Internet.

While officials acknowledge that the South Korean teenager could have indeed joined the Islamic State in Syria, they are considering other circumstances.

“We are open to all possibilities,” a police official said, implying that it is also possible that Kim may have been kidnapped.

If Kim has become a jihadist, he joins a growing list of foreign nationals flocking to ISIS. According to the American Central Intelligence Agency, more than 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries have gone to Syria to join up.


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